Deeply engrained in the Japanese psyche is a form of animism that views all natural objects as spiritual. In fact, one of the pillars of Japan’s indigenous religion Shintoism is yaoyorozu no kami (八百万の神), or “eight million gods” that reside on objects of nature like mountains, trees and waterfalls. So with a larger-than-life entity like Mt. Fuji, grounded in a regal self-assurance like a border town sheriff, it’s easy to understand the type of presence the mountain commanded. And like other divine entities, Mt. Fuji was often depicted in art.
Interestingly, early depictions were based only on rumors and exaggerated tales that were carried to cities by word of mouth. It wasn’t until the Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333) when the bakufu military government was installed that travel became more popular and artists began creating more accurate depictions of Mt. Fuji.
Shotokutaishieden (1069) image courtesy Tokyo National Museum. The oldest know painting of Mt. Fuji depicts the life and times of Prince Shotoku, a semi-legendary figure in Japanese history. In this particular painting he can be seen in the upper right corner (at age 27) climbing My. Fuji.
Yugijouninengi-e (1323) A series of graphic scrolls telling the story of monks. In this particular version (8 of 10) a more accurate Mt. Fuji is drawn, whereas earlier scrolls depicted a much more steep, perpendicular slope.
Another significant change occurred during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Peaceful times brought more travel and, for the first time, people began to travel to Mt. Fuji and climb for pleasure, rather than spiritual enlightenment. A standardized currency also enables Ukiyo-e artists to travel to Mt. Fuji, opening the doors to more original interpretations of the mountain. Mt. Fuji in art shifted from being a scenic part of the background to the foreground where it began to play a protagonistic role.
The Great Wave at Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai (1831–33) From the series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, this is perhaps the most famous painting of Mt. Fuji and is single-handedly responsible for disseminating the art of Ukiyo-e abroad.
Nihonmeisan no fuji (1860) A woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige that shows a European and Chinese visitor with exaggerated faces gawking at Mt. Fuji.
A Day in the Pacific Ocean (1952) by Yokoyama Taikan.
Cover design for “Hanashi no Tokushu” (1966) by Tadanori Yokoo. Yokoo illustrated many of the covers of this popular political satire magazine.
This is part of a series of posts on Mt. Fuji. The entire series can be found HERE.